Tuesday, 27 January 2015

I Have to Talk to God About This

Yesterday I attended the induction service for the new rector, Matt Martin, in the neighbouring parish of St. James Clandeboy and Holy Trinity Lucan.  It was a wonderful celebration of new ministry with a large combined choir and a full to overflowing in the church.  One of the many things which resonated with me was a story that the preacher, Rev. Ken Anderson, related as part of his sermon.  He and his family including his five year old grandson were visiting Savannah Georgia.  They came upon a statue which represents a modern black family that has risen from the shackles of slavery. The base of the monument bears an inscription by poet Maya Angelou:

We were stolen, sold and bought together from the African continent. We got on the slave ships together. We lay back to belly in the holds of the slave ships in each other’s excrement and urine together, sometimes died together, and our lifeless bodies thrown overboard together. Today, we are standing up together, with faith and even some joy.

The grandson was quite captivated by the statue and asked his grandfather about it.  When he heard the explanation he was rather quiet and moved away from the area.  Asked about what he was doing he answered, “I need to talk to God about it.”   The wisdom in that statement is as profound as anything I have read by spiritual guides and wise men and women.  That, for me, sums up what we all need in our spiritual journey in life when we seek a deeper relationship with God.  We need to remember to talk with God about it.  Talking to God of course is a two way conversation.  We need to listen as well as speak.  So often in my experience I forget to talk to God about what is happening in my life and my response to those events.  I reserve my conversation with God to formal and sometimes less formal periods of prayer and meditation.  Talking to God at any and all times in our lives will help us in many ways as especially more aware of the Moments of Grace which occur and which we often can overlook and be inattentive to what are all around us and that we often in the midst of. 

As Ken noted the chains that bind the feet of that family in the statue are broken and they have been set free.  This is a powerful representation of one way of looking at sin – it is those things that chain us to the past.  Let us keep talking to God about our lives and looking for those Moments of Grace. 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Sermon Baptism of Christ January 11, 2015

Gen 1: 1-5 (OT page 1)

Psalm 29 (B.A.S. page 738)

Acts 19: 1-7 (NT page 139)

Mark 1: 2-11 (NT page 34)

The 1994 movie Pulp Fiction, directed by Quentin Tarantino, begins with scene of two unusual characters committing armed robbery in a restaurant.   The robbery is committed by a very loving and very violent couple with the unusual names Honey Bunny and Pumpkin.    As is the case with most of Tarantino’s movies it is very violent and at times hard to watch but also very funny in a dark way.  However, Pulp Fiction is unusual as it presents the plot in a less than a straightforward manner.  The viewer is not really sure what is going on in the story for the first half of the movie.  There are many seemingly disconnected scenes and events – plots and sub-plots with twists and turns which the audience has trouble putting together.  However, as the movie develops the story all these disparate parts slowly come together and the plot is revealed.  It is a ground-breaking way of telling a story in a movie which has been copied in other movies since.

Today is liturgically very much like that.  We are not sure how all these parts fit together.  We are not sure what is going on with the story line.  We have a few plot lines going on at the same time and if we don’t pay attention we will lose track of the story.  Just last week we had we had Epiphany – with the arrival of the Wise Men – the Magi finally get to the stable bearing gifts for the Christ Child – better late than never certainly applies here. 

Epiphany took place last week on the 6th as it always does.  So we should be in the season of Epiphany with the change in liturgical colour being green.  However, the calendar call for white as you can see on the Altar.  That is because we are also celebrating the Baptism of Christ by John in the Jordan River.  We have the Gospel reading Mark 1: 2-1.  We were celebrating Christmas and the nativity of our Lord just a few days ago.  But John doesn’t have anything to do directly with the Nativity. We go right from the Nativity story to the Baptism – quite a leap.  We have to wonder what is going on in this story - this plot of the Life of Jesus. We can only hope that it all comes together if we pay attention and stay with the story.  Of course we are told very little about Jesus’s life between the birth and his baptism.  At least we seem to have the consolation that it’s not violent like Pulp Fiction.  Or perhaps it is—we will have to wait and see how this story unfolds.

Well the plot line actually follows the life the Jesus quite closely.  Jesus baptism by John in the Jordan River is the start of Jesus public ministry.  Mark’s Gospel actually starts at this point – it has no account of the nativity of Jesus.  Some people—even some Christians—are surprised to be told of this.  We depend on Matthew and Luke to give us that part of the plot.  The story of Jesus life basically with one minor exemption jumps from his birth to his baptism.   We know almost nothing about his life growing up from the Gospel – with the exception of his journey to the temple when he was twelve. So in this sense we have an ending and a beginning. 

The beginning is reflected in the OT reading the beginning of the creation story in Genesis.  The OT reading gives us another beginning—the beginning of all creation.  As few weeks ago we heard about John as the voice in the wilderness crying, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”   He prepares for the coming of the Christ Child – the Messiah.  And so it begins and ends for each beginning marks and ending.  But we do not know the ultimate end of the story yet. That still must unfold.

So is this story one without violence unlike Pulp Fiction?  Actually, no.  We do have the slaughter of the innocents – King Herod orders all children two year old and younger in and around Bethlehem killed in his futile attempt to prevent the usurping of his throne by the new King of the Jews.  But the baptism—surely there is no violence in the part of the plot we have today.  Well, the assigned Gospel reading cut off the story prematurely.  If we read on to the next verse we have a new subplot, 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

 This is no nice, pleasant church baptism here.  The wonderful epiphany of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, the declaration from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  No—immediately we have a twist and turn—the unexpected happens.  That same Spirit—now not in the form of a peaceful dove—but something much more dramatic with an implication of violence—drives him into the wilderness—apparently against his will if not violently.

Why baptism at the beginning of the public ministry?  Jesus submits to the Baptism of John for the repentance of sin—he who is without sin.  This baptism is to me as much an ordination as a baptism.  Jesus is ordained to begin his journey that will take him to the cross.  It is a journey which is worthy of a plot by Quinten Tarantino—will have twists and turns, betrayals and traps sprung but escaped through wit and God’s will.

Jesus did not need to repent but he did need a way to mark the beginning of his ministry.  In a sense that happens at every baptism.  It marks the beginning of a new journey—for us—imperfect humans that we are—it is one that marks leaving the old life behind.  The slate has been wiped clean. 

There is a dramatic representation of this in Pulp Fiction.  One of the principal characters Jules is a hit man—he kills people for a living.  Jules has an interesting twist on his occupation.  Just before he is going to kill someone he quotes the bible – a passage from Ezekiel.  As Jules put it so succinctly:

There's a passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you."

As Jules explains he has been saying this for years and if someone heard this he knew he was a dead man.  However, after Jules experiences what he considers a miracle and escapes what seems certain death he has an epiphany – seemingly a revelation from God. 

I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to say to someone before I popped him. But I saw something this mornin' made me think twice. See, now I'm thinking: maybe it means you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. 9mm here... he's the shepherd protecting me in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. And I'd like that. But that ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd.

I have cleaned up some of the language given where we are – if you want the unexpurgated version you can find it online.  As a result he decides to give up his life as a hit man and goes straight.  That, is a true epiphany and a true beginning.  What God asks of us is not perfection.  God asks that we try “real hard” and have the intention of turning our life around and making a new beginning.  May we all have a new beginning in Christ in this New Year.  Amen

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

So You’ve Written a Book (Part 2)

My Adventures in Publishing (Continued)

I am continuing my account of publishing my first book,  The Ego and the Bible: Stories of Divinely Intended Ego.  I left the account at the point where I had decided it was not worthwhile trying to find a traditional publisher that would accept my book. 

The next step I took was to decide to see about hiring an editor.  My wife Lorna who worked as an editor wisely declined to undertake the task for the sake of marital harmony.  However she was very helpful throughout the process on advising on points of grammar and particularly on the final appearance and format of the cover.  I looked around on line and found a suitable candidate to do the editing.  After contact the candidate and doing due diligence with references and a contract I hired the individual.  Initially it was working out well but unfortunately for me and fortunately of her the person landed a full time job (with I presume benefits and a regular pay cheque) and she felt she was unable to continue with editing my manuscript.  I have no problem with this and she gave me a full refund of my initial deposit despite the initial work she had done.  However, I was in a quandary concerning how to proceed. 

I decided to try the self-publishing route and found a Canadian firm which had a long experience of this type of work.  I was in negotiation with them for a while and they seemed to be a good possibility but found price they quoted to be on the high side; in the range of three to four thousand dollars.  I was hesitant to proceed as I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend this amount on the project. 

About this time I received two pieces of good advice from colleagues who had experience with publishing books.  One, Bob Haden, who self-published his book, Unopened Letters from God, is the president of the Haden institute where I completed programs in dream groups and Spiritual Direction.  He advised that trying to go through traditional publishers was a rather a lost cause and would take years if you ever found one that would agree to publish you book.  This was an individual who was very successful with many contacts that would be interested in his book.  He also gave me good advice about the title.  I originally wanted to use the title ‘Divinely Intended Ego” which was a reference to a phase of Friedrick von Hugel that had resonated with me for many years; ‘divinely intended tension’.  He recommended that I find a more accessible title that would better describe the book—which I did using my original title as a subtitle.  The other person, who had an experience which I could more closely relate to, had a book published through the publishing arm of Amazon, CreativeSpace.  He highly recommended them and found the process and results to be very satisfactory. 

I investigated the possibility of using CreativeSpace primarily based on my colleague’s recommendation.  CreativeSpace is an U.S. based firm as part of Amazon, as is my colleague which gave me some hesitation as a Canadian.  However, after some discussion and consideration I decided to go with CreativeSpace.  The cost for similar services to the Canadian firm was substantially less at about $2,600—about $2,800 Canadian at the exchange at the rate that that time (note to Canadian, the exchange rate has fallen through the floor since then).  So I launched into the world of what used to be called derisively, vanity press but is becoming a creditable way of publishing in the modern age.

 I found the process of working with CreativeSpace overall to be very positive.  I worked with two editors who were professional and did a good job.  I had signed up for a package deal which included two rounds of editing with proofs provided as well a customs design for the cover.  It also included writing of an introductory blurb for marketing and making the book available through Amazon.  Not everything was perfect of course.  I had some difficulty getting used to the editing system where I would have to accept or reject every change proposed by the editors down to every jot and tittle and comma and Em Dash.  This was a long labourious process for someone who is not detailed oriented but is of course necessary to have a good end product.  One assumption one of the editors made was to put commentary on the biblical passages in the past tense without checking with me.  I had put some in present and some in past in my initial manuscript.  After some consideration I decided to go with present tense and had to manually change the manuscript to reflect that.  This was a rather extensive process, however, I am glad I made that decision.

CreativeSpace was very responsive to my questions and issues that I raised by email.  There overall system is quite processional and comprehensive.  However, I discovered that my assumption that the book would automatically be available on Amazon.ca was not correct.  This is a drawback for a Canadian as it makes it more difficult for Canadians to order copies with exchange and duties and shipping.  I don’t believe Amazon.com offers free shipping to Canada whereas Amazon.ca does. However, I have recently discovered that my book is available through Amazon.ca.  However, it is not ‘in stock’ and will probably take longer to obtain through that route.

Finally I have successfully made the book available in Kindle format which was more difficult than I had anticipated.  Kindle is an Amazon company.  However, it doesn’t happen automatically through CreativeSpace.  I had difficulty getting the files into a format that Kindle would accept which was surprisingly not provided by CreativeSpace.  However, the people at CreativeSpace and Kindle were helpful and I was eventually successful without becoming too frustrated which is an accomplishment for a non-computer nerd such as I. 

In conclusion, the process was worth it whether or not I make a profit in the process (perhaps there is a bit of vanity or ego in it).  However, it was a real thrill when my copies of the book arrived and I open the box two days before Christmas.

Readers of my sermon might enjoy my book The Ego and The Bible.  It is available on Amazon.com:

It is also available on Amazon.ca: